Cost of Bailout Gets Bigger; SEC Regulation Backfires

The financial bailout bill is not just “dangerous, inflationary, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.”  It’s also a lot more costly than the government admits, judging from the hypocritical arguments made by government officials.  The Treasury Secretary in the past has resisted calls to loosen federal accounting rules, so-called “mark-to-market” rules that require mortgages to be assessed at their current fire-sale prices, rather than their estimated value if held to maturity.  These rules can result in banks being declared insolvent even if few of their loans have defaulted.

Now, however, the government hypocritically plans to ignore its own mark-to-market regulations when buying up mortgage loans as part of the bailout, saying that instead of buying assets at their current “fire-sale prices,” the bailout will “have taxpayers buy the assets and hold them at close to their maturity value.”  If “mark-to-market” accounting is really as accurate as the government claims, then the government is going to grossly overpay for the worthless mortgages it buys, and taxpayers are going to lose tons of money in the bailout — far more than the government is admitting.  On the other hand, if this accounting method is not accurate enough to be used by the government for its own purchases, then the government should stop forcing private banks to use it, since doing so jeopardizes their solvency, and the financial system as a whole.

Many commentators are now calling for relaxation of federal regulations mandating “mark-to-market” accounting (which requires assets to be valued at current fire-sale prices), in order to stem the financial crisis, including former FDIC Chairman William Isaac, the Wall Street JournalJohn Berlau, Jeff MillerHolman Jenkins, Newt Gingrich, and the Republican Study Committee

The SEC’s foolish ban on short-selling, a classic example of shooting the messenger, has now backfired, with people worried about the market falling investing in commodities like gold rather than the stock market, as investment manager Peter Schiff has observed.  Investor confidence took a dive after the details of the bailout became public — not surprising when you consider the role that government incompetence played in spawning the mortgage crisis, especially by the very lawmakers and officials who are pushing the bailout (such as mandating risky loans to promote “affordable housing“).